October 29th, 2008
Premier and premiere / capitalizing sir / ordinal numbers in dates
by Barbara Wallraff
Mike Goronsky, of Loudonville, N.Y., writes: “I have a question regarding the use of ‘premier’ and ‘premiere’ as adjectives. Which spelling is preferred in a phrase like ‘a premier(e) episode/issue’?”
Dear Mike: Older reference books are likely to leave you with the impression that “premier” is right, and newer ones may suggest that the two spellings are interchangeable -- but the one everybody actually uses these days in your examples is “premiere.”
Bill Brooks, of Allen Park, Mich., writes: “Why don’t we capitalize generic names other than Mother or Dad? For example, ‘Excuse me, sir.’ Shouldn’t it be ‘Sir’?”
Dear Bill: Actually, where and where not to capitalize words like “mother” and “dad” is tricky. The idea is to capitalize them only if you’re using them as substitutes for, or as part of, names. So you’d write “I told Mother I’d pick her up on my way home” and “I think Mother Courage is an amazing character” but “I told my mother I’d get the tickets for the play.”
Lisa Guge, of Shueyville, Iowa, writes: “I’ve noticed more and more in television and newspaper advertising that dates of events are written in the format of month, ordinal day and year, such as ‘November 2nd, 2008.’ I thought that when writing a date with the month, day and year together, the cardinal form of the day should be used.”
Dear Lisa: You’re right that “November 2,” not “2nd,” is the standard written form. We all learned that when we learned how to write and date letters. Lots of people say “November second,” rather than “November two,” though -- so it’s tempting to write the date that way.
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